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Interview: Simon Bird


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“I’m not a huge theatre fan”

A calm Simon Bird walks into a well-lit room in Central London. It is clear that he is no stranger to press gatherings as he takes a seat on a sofa in front of us. Although, this time something is different.

Despite a life spent as a leading figure on our television screens – The Inbetweeners , Friday Night Dinner and Chickens – this is Bird’s first press preview as a West End actor as he settles down into the role of Phillip in Simon Callow’s new production of The Philanthropist.

“My first opinions were that there’s quite a lot of lines to learn, so panic was the overriding emotion. I just read it very quickly because it’s just so funny, every line has something to it, it’s so witty and there’s so many quotable one-liners in it as well so it’s a very easy read.

“I was just excited because I’m not a huge theatre fan, like I don’t go to the theatre that much, but I absolutely loved this play so I was just very excited to be asked to do it.”

By featuring some of the modern era’s most celebrated young comedic talent, director Simon Callow’s new production of Oscar winner Christopher Hampton’s The Philanthropist is sure to leave audiences in stitches when it launches at Trafalgar Studios on Monday, although Bird is quick to assess that despite its humour, the play has got an important message to tell.

“There’s a lot of jokes in it. In rehearsal, there’s been a lot of making each other laugh and there’s some really really funny bits. But I think it’s also more than just a comedy. It’s not a pantomime.

“Credit to Christopher Hampton, the writer, because as well as being really funny throughout, it is at times quite moving. Sure, it’ll be a laugh all right, but it will be a tear jerker as well.”

Christopher Hampton’s enthralling script about the lives of a group of young university academics features prominently on university syllabuses throughout the country, currently standing as one of the most frequently studied and performed plays in the nation.

Having studied English at school and university, Bird reaffirms just how important seeing the play on stage is for students of the modern day.

“If you’re studying a play, it’s good to see it stood up and acted out because that’s what they were designed to be.

“My understanding of this play has changed so much in the last two weeks of rehearsing it from when I originally read it. I missed a lot of what was going on, I needed Simon Callow to explain it to me.”

As well as joining on stage fiancé Charlotte Ritchie in the Philanthropists, Bird will reunite with Friday Night Dinner star Tom Rosenthal who plays best friend Donald.

“It’s very nice to come into any job knowing one person in the cast, it’s nice to have a friendly face around. It’s definitely made things easier, we’ve got a natural rapport which hopefully you will see on stage”.

As our meeting comes to a close, Bird still displays the calmness seen from the beginning.

Unknown territory but business as usual for a talented actor as he moves into a new chapter.

Christopher Hampton’s The Philanthropist, directed by Simon Callow is at The Trafalgar Studios from 3rd April until 22nd July. Tickets:  / 0844 871 7632

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